Prioritising employee experience post-COVID

‘Virtual coffee breaks alone will not help organisations innovate and improve culture’
Carolyn Dawson, Managing director, Informa Tech
By Carolyn Dawson, Managing director, Informa Tech

The coronavirus pandemic has presented a multitude of operational and cultural challenges that organisations have had to adopt and adapt to in a short time. With many work style changes becoming permanent, it is now imperative for enterprises to plan for the longer term.

The digital agenda for most businesses is undergoing significant reprioritisation, with successfully and securely enabling more flexible work styles being a key theme dominating the plans. This need around remote work is nothing new; it is a digital initiative many businesses have been actively working to deliver for many years. However, most have centred around technology solutions and we should take this opportunity to consider how we can learn to humanise the workplace in a post-pandemic world.

Process is just as important as tech

For businesses, the challenge is in enabling fluid work styles, but in a way that does not negatively impact employee productivity and security. This balancing act has focused on making calculated investments in technologies and services that support these new ways of working, especially important given the budget scrutiny many businesses are working under. Collaboration tools, security applications, using technology to track workplace occupancy and manage shift patterns have all played a role.

However, improving “people practices” and business processes will be just as important. The mass home-working experiment brought about by the pandemic has shown how technology challenges, and others, can be overcome and how new benefits can be realised as a result. The traditional centralised office will by no means become a relic of the past, but new attitudes towards remote working mean businesses have an opportunity to improve employee wellbeing and corporate culture.

People have been isolated over recent months, both in their personal and professional lives, so bringing them closer together is going to be very important going forward. Additionally, a fluid workforce engages and collaborates with one another via different channels, including voice, text and video.

Communication is key

Even when the tools are there to support communication and collaboration among teams, developing an inclusive culture and ensuring all employees have a voice and an opportunity to share ideas is vital. Management approaches will need to adapt in supporting this ideal and there is nowhere near the focus on retraining managers for a permanent change yet.

Trust and understanding between employees and team members is developed by encouraging communication and the sharing of ideas, but it would be dangerous to assume this is taking place just because the tools are available.

A common approach adopted by some businesses looking to strengthen corporate culture and communication throughout the pandemic has been to launch virtual coffee break initiatives whereby two or more employees from different parts of a business are randomly paired together in a discussion. Virtual coffee breaks certainly have value, but they alone will not foster the active collaboration and outputs that will help organisations innovate and improve culture.

Managers can help foster more active collaboration by making projects and work tasks more collaborative, thus helping create a real purpose for communication. It will take as much effort as redesigning the physical office spaces in the planning, but will ensure longer term engagement and productivity than other, less human tools do. Ensuring employees also have access to the support and training they need, when they need it, should still be imperative for businesses and the multitude of virtual platforms have proven this is possible.

The requirement for technology tools and solutions has proven vital in the initial response to managing a workforce since the pandemic. With permanent changes to the future of work, we must remember not to deprioritise the employee experience.

Written by Carolyn Dawson, Managing director, Informa Tech